Conflict Resolution: Theory, Research, Practice
By James Schellenberg
Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: James Schellenberg. Conflict Resolution: Theory, Research, Practice. New York: State University of New York Press, 1996, 247 pp.
Conflict Resolution: Theory, Research, Practice will be of interest to those seeking a basic yet thorough introduction to the fields of conflict and conflict resolution. This work is divided into twelve chapters grouped into three parts. The first chapters are introductory. Chapter One presents an overview of the field of conflict studies. The author introduces the basic concepts of social conflict, conflict resolution, and the neutral attitude toward conflict. He also introduces some basic distinctions, between academics and practitioners, for example, or between a macro or micro approach. Finally the author summarizes the basic types of conflict theory, and the main approaches to the practice of conflict resolution. Chapter Two introduces conflict resolution research. Schellenberg describes the six primary methods of conflict research, and gives examples of each. The six methods are: observational, experimental, historical, archival, survey research, and content analysis. Chapter Two also illustrates the variety of topics which conflict research addresses, from domestic violence to labor relations.
Part II focuses on conflict theory. Each of the four chapters explores a different type of conflict theory. Chapter Three discusses individual characteristics theories. These theories focus on understanding individual aggression, and see such aggression as the source of conflict. Conflict resolution focuses on containing or redirecting aggressive tendencies. Chapter Four discusses social process theories. Social process theories treat conflict and conflict resolution as processes which cannot be explained entirely in terms of either individual behavior, or social structures. Social process theorists may focus on such issues as patterns of conflict escalation, the role of conflict in society, or the relation between conflict and competition. Chapter Five explores social structure theories. These theories view the social organization as the main source of conflict. Class divisions, racial or ethnic divisions or sex divisions form the basis for social conflict. Such theories recommend one of five basic approaches to conflict resolution: avoidance, acceptance, gradual social reform, nonviolent confrontation, or violent confrontation. Finally, Chapter Six examines formal theories. Formal theories attempt to explain conflict by use of logical or mathematical models. The author notes that formal models are both powerful and flexible, but can be difficult for the lay- person to understand and apply.
Part III focuses on the practice of conflict resolution. Again, each chapter describes a different approach to conflict resolution, and weighs its advantages and disadvantages. Chapter Seven examines the use of coercion to end conflict. Coercion may involve the use of force, or merely the threat of force. Chapter Eight discusses negotiation and bargaining. Generally, negotiation is a voluntary process where the parties try to move from having conflicting interests to reaching mutually satisfactory agreements. Chapter Nine describes adjudication, or settlement by a court. This chapter focuses on the civil court system in the U.S. Chapter Ten explore the use of mediation to resolve conflicts. Mediation is assisted negotiation. Mediation is used in a variety of conflicts, from divorces to international disputes. Mediation practices vary widely depending upon the type of conflict being mediated. Chapter Eleven describes the practice of arbitration. In arbitration, disputing parties appeal to a neutral third party, who will then make an authoritative decision settling their conflict. Binding grievance arbitration is used as a typical example of the arbitration process. Finally, Chapter Twelve describes how these various approaches to conflict resolution may be combined in practice.
Schellenberg ends closes this text with a fictional debate between a "realist"' and an "idealist" on the future of conflict and the hope for effective conflict resolution.
Conflict Resolution: Theory, Research, Practice is intended to be an easy-to-read introduction to the study of conflict and conflict resolution. Numerous case studies illustrate and enliven the text.